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Blackberry Torta della Nonna

The fact that I know the secret to this torta makes me feel like a part of my Italian mentor Edgarda Bergonzi’s family. She taught me how to make it, and she learned it from her mother, who’d learned it from her mother. The first time I saw it, I thought it must have been technically very challenging to shape the top crust into such perfect mounds. What kind of crazy, molecularly inclined nonna had been the one to figure that out? The secret — a pile of amaretti cookies, dipped in rum for good measure — is so simple, a nonna’s sleight of hand. They’re available at Italian specialty stores or online. If you can’t get your hands on fresh, sweet blackberries (or are looking for a shortcut), ¾ cup of your favorite jam is a fine replacement for making your own. Just spread it directly over the bottom crust.

½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
1 ¾ cup powdered sugar
2 eggs, divided
2 egg yolks, divided
Zest of 1 lemon
4 cups (480 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon Morton kosher salt, divided
1 pound blackberries
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¾ teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon water, plus more as needed
3 ½ ounces amaretti cookies
¼ cup spiced rum
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

  1. Start creaming the butter and powdered sugar on low speed, gradually bumping it up to medium, until the mixture is very creamy and fluffy. Add 1 whole egg and 1 yolk along with the lemon zest; continue to beat until it’s light and airy. Combine the flour and ¼ teaspoon salt separately, then fold them into the dough by hand until just combined.

  2. Lightly flour your work surface and dump the dough directly onto it. Give it a few kneads to pull it all together, then divide it in half. Pat each half into a disc and refrigerate in a ziplock bag or plastic wrap for at least 30 minutes.

  3. For the blackberry jam, combine the blackberries with the sugar, lemon juice, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Use a fork to roughly mash the berries, then allow the juices to come to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s quite thick. If it seems too dry to properly stew, add water 1 tablespoon at a time to loosen it up a bit.

  4. Dilute the cornstarch in ½ teaspoon water and stir it all into the pan with the blackberries. Cook for another couple of minutes to take out any starchy flavor, then set the jam aside to chill.

  5. Heat the oven to 350F with a rack in the center.

  6. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan and dust flour over your work surface. Roll one of the tart crust discs into a 12- to 13-inch circle, sprinkling more flour if it ever starts to stick; a bench scraper is helpful for loosening the edges so it’s easy to move. Fold it into quarters so you can easily lift it, then unfold it inside the pan and push it in the corners and up the edges. Trim away any overhang so it’s flush with the pan’s edges and use scraps of dough to patch any tears.

  7. Spread the blackberry jam evenly over the crust. One by one, dip the amaretti cookies into the rum and arrange them concentrically over the jam, with their round tops facing up. Roll the top crust as you did the bottom and drape it over the top of the pan, trimming any overhanging edges.

  8. Make an egg wash by beating together the remaining egg, yolk, and milk. Brush it all over the top crust and sprinkle the sugar evenly over it. Cut a slit in the center of the pie so that steam can escape, then bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan after 20. You’re looking for the crust to be firm and crunchy, with a fine crumb similar to shortbread. Serve warm or at room temperature, on its own or with a scoop of good ice cream.

Adapted from “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel” by Alon Shaya, Knopf Doubleday.

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